Carl Hester: Was cancelling the Euros too hasty? *H&H Plus*


  • H&H’s dressage columnist wonders whether the Tokyo Olympics will go ahead in 2021, and where it will leave the currently cancelled European Championships if it does not...

    It seems we are entering the “resume” phase of the pandemic, with the news that pubs, hairdressers, and a whole group of other establishments such as churches can reopen from 4 July, albeit with social distancing in place.

    I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when, at the time of writing and despite British Equestrian and the member bodies working hard to convince Sport England otherwise, indoor schools were still verboten. This was completely bonkers – think of the open air circulation in a 20x60m arena with open sides, and compare that to a church. My suggestion was to change the name – covered yards used to be a thing; covered schools probably were – in time for when the next burst of torrential rain arrives so we can avoid a soaking.

    As H&H went to press, we welcomed the news that indoor schools may be used again in England from 4 July – although Scotland beat us to it – but in Wales you will get wet for now.

    Hasty decisions?

    On International Olympic Day – 23 June to commemorate the birth of the modern Olympic Games – I couldn’t banish the thought that the decision to cancel next year’s European Championships was made a bit too quickly.

    Until there is a vaccine for Covid-19, we’re going to have to learn to live alongside it, and that throws the prospect of next year’s rescheduled Tokyo Olympics into doubt. This is despite Japan’s success in curbing the spread of the virus, which apparently has led to a shortage of patients to take part in clinical trials there.

    Nonetheless, if the Olympics cannot go ahead, we would have to look at alternatives, such as a hastily put-together Europeans at a “ready-made” equestrian venue, such as Aachen.

    A new era for shows

    In the meantime, competitions are resuming – albeit differently to what we’re used to. How grateful we are to Dressage at Hickstead for making a grand effort and teaming up with Rotterdam CHIO to produce the Hickstead Rotterdam Grand Prix Challenge.

    When Dressage at Hickstead’s Dane Rawlins was approached by Mark Jennings of Chilli Pepper TV, the production crew behind Virtual Eventing, a call to Rotterdam’s Joyce Lebon was met with great enthusiasm.

    There were hurdles to jump – the FEI said it could not be judged, and the response from some sectors of dressage officialdom over here was disappointing, in sharp contrast with the enthusiasm shown by the Dutch.

    However, I’m writing this having returned from a very successful day at Hickstead, where it was great to get Charlotte Dujardin and Mount St John Freestyle out for a run. The take-up has been fantastic with some 23 horses taking part at Hickstead, including some grand prix first-timers, and a similar number in Rotterdam.

    The tests will be commented on, though not scored, by the wonderfully erudite judges Stephen Clarke and Mariette Sanders-Van Gansewinkel. I gather there are also plans to have spectator judging.

    The production will be available to watch, free, on both shows’ websites and at rotterdamhicksteadgpc.com on 18 to 19 July.

    Along with the virtual international, Philip Cheetham at Hartpury has also agreed to run a grand prix in July, with plans yet to be finalised. British Dressage (BD) will resume running shows at lower levels from this week, so even if it means four pairs per hour and socially distanced judging, at least there is something for us look forward to.

    A 10 for Peter Storr

    With lockdown easing, it’s good to be able to get a bit more social, and I was very impressed to find that my old friend Peter Storr, BD’s judges director, has adopted a new method of transport for local visits.

    Peter’s beating the lockdown weight gain by getting on his bicycle. My level of admiration did drop however when I discovered it was an electric version. However, it’s a definite 10 from me, Peter, for a sight I never expected to see in my lifetime!

    Ref Horse & Hound; 2 July 2020

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